Some time ago, Kevin Marks told me about a strange little OS X application that comes with Apple Macs. It is called “Speak After Me”, and takes a bit of text, records the user speaking the text, cuts it up (the speech, not the user) into phonemes — at least that’s what the program calls them — and then maps a pitch contour to the transcription.

Here is a screenshot of Kevin saying “Coco is the queen of the space monkeys” (click on the image to enlarge). Highlighted in yellow is the transcription it generates, using a very odd phonemic (phonetic?) notation:

Mac OS X: Speak After Me

Not having a Mac, I don’t know if the program works for other languages than English. But even in English, it is clear that its phoneme inventory must be a weak point of the system: Written language to phoneme mapping just doesn’t work across all varieties of English. On the other hand, you apparently can edit the speech recording/transcription/pitch contour set, and the program also lets you export the data as a plain text file. It might be nice to play around with for a class of advanced ESL learners, or even in native-language education at the high school or post-secondary level.

According to Kevin, this is mainly a OS X demo application and part of the “developers’ install”, which is accessible to all Mac OS X users. Does anyone know more about it?

  1. Who are you callin’ ungrammatical? — a good article by Jan Freeman in the Boston Globe. The topic is, you guessed it, whom.
  2. American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift — an interview with the linguist William Labov by Robert Siegel on (US) National Public Radio. Via Mark Liberman at Language Log; he also reports on the sad news concerning the public access to Prof. Labov’s research, though.
  3. Le mot de la fin — this is a four-times-a-week radio editorial by the lexicographer Alain Rey. (His is the name on most of the Robert dictionaries.) About 3 min each, and available as a podcast.
  4. Speaking in Minor and Major Keys [.pdf] — via Argonaut, a research paper by Maartje Schreuder, Laura van Eerten and Dicky Gilbers, who have found a correlation between musical minor/major keys and sad/happy emotional speech: “In order to investigate emotional intonation, we recorded and analyzed the performances of five professional readers reading passages from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh in Dutch. In pitch contours of all speakers we found intervals between tones indicating minor modality in passages in which the sad character Eeyore is speaking and intervals indicating major modality in passages in which the happy, energetic Tigger is speaking.” A similar study had apparently been done already for Japanese.

right-hook v

Via Bridget Samuels at ilani ilani: The IPA council has adopted the first new phonetic symbol in twelve years. SIL explains that the “right hook v” will symbolise a labiodental flap, and how to produce this sound. It is a phoneme in several African languages, among which Mono.

The latest beta versions of the Doulos SIL and Charis SIL fonts include the right hook v in their “private use area” (code U+F25F). If you have one of them installed, you might see it here: . (Otherwise, you’ll see some nonsense or nothing at all.)

An interesting site: Les Accents des Français: We — the authors of this site — are two students at the École des Mines [a prestigious civil engineering school — C.W.] in Paris and victims of the speech “standardisation” that these pages are concerned with… since we speak “accent-free” French. We recognise that a heritage […]

 read the post »

Prononciation anglaise

Some English pronunciations have subtilities that non-native speakers easily overlook. Here are a few examples.

Si vous êtes parmi les lecteurs et lectrices de alt.usage.english, vous les avez peut-être déjà répérés. Dans le cas contraire, voici quelques mots anglais dont la prononciation pose parfois problème même aux personnes averties. Les liens pointent vers les dictionnaires Cambridge (avec API) et Merriam-Webster (avec son et ascii-API). egregious se prononce [ɪˈgriːʤəs], avec trois syllabes. […]

 read the post »


Tutoriel en anglais sur les caractères API (alphabet phonétique international) dans les pages web et les navigateurs. Trop fatiguée pour le faire en bilingue, désolée.

The Tensor at Tenser, said the Tensor (if I’m going to link to him or her in the future I will have to find a better naming scheme) has an enjoyable post on pseudo-IPA in advertising. You will have to be able to view phonetic symbols in your browser. Look up to this site’s logo […]

 read the post »